Technology

Britain To Spend £92m Examining Galileo Satellite Alternative

The UK faces being excluded from the Galileo project following Brexit.

An artist's impression of the Galileo satellite (Image: ESA).

The UK space sector is to receive a £92 million cash injection to design a national alternative to the European Union’s Galileo satellite system.

The money for the new project will come from a £3 billion Brexit readiness fund set up by the Government last year to prepare for Britain leaving the EU.

It is hoped that this will ensure UK security after leaving the EU.

Britain faces being excluded from the Galileo project as a result of leaving the EU - a move described in June by then-Defence Minister Guto Bebb as "completely unacceptable".

The government is currently negotiating with the EU commission to remain involved in the programme.

The Galileo satellite system is responsible for satellite navigation systems such as GPS - the UK has already put £1.2 billion into the programme.

Systems of this kind are important to military operations, used in guiding aircraft, ships and vehicles.

Earth from space
Space satellites are used in navigation systems (Image: NASA via US Dept of Defense).

A recent government study estimated that sustained disruption to satellite navigation would cost the economy £1 billion per day.

As a result of the uncertainty surrounding the Galileo system, the UK Space Agency is currently looking at developing a British Satellite Navigation technology.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said:

“Britain is a world leader in the space industry and satellites.

“We are investing in an alternative option to Galileo to ensure our future security needs are met using the UK’s world-leading space sector.”

In May, the Defence Secretary announced the launch of the UK's first Defence Space Strategy, and said the RAF Air Command would take on responsibility for "command and control" of UK military space operations.

The RAF already has 500 personnel working on space operations, many at RAF Fylingdales.

The base has spent decades looking for threats from space.

Air Command at High Wycombe has now assumed responsibility for command and control of all UK military space operations.

Around 100 more people will join the team over the next five years.

Responding to the £92 million of funding into the UK space sector, Gavin Williamson said:

"The danger space poses as a new front for warfare is one of my personal priorities, and it is absolutely right that we waste no time in going it alone if we need an independent satellite system to combat those emerging threats.

“This alternative system and the UK’s very first Defence Space Strategy which I will launch later this year will be a further boost to military skills, our innovative businesses and our genuinely world-leading role which has seen us make such a key contribution to Galileo.”

Dr Graham Turnock, CEO of UK Space Agency said:

“We remain confident in the strength of our space sector and look forward to working in partnership with them on the exciting prospect of a national satellite navigation system.”

What is Galileo?

Galileo is the £8 billion European global satellite-based navigation system - a programme the UK has contributed more than £1 billion into.

The Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency claims that Galileo allows users to know their position with greater accuracy than other similar systems.

However, it was originally invented to rival the US’ Global Positioning System.

Galileo has been under development for a long time; the first test satellite was launched in 2005. 

The system intends to be fully operational by 2020, by which point it will be used in technology like personal smartphones, as well as military operations.

More: Frontline Tech: Satellite Navigation - Lost In Space?